From 2006 to 2010, I did video production freelance work for a solid salary and took sporadic six-week breaks to tour America and Europe with various DIY bands, including my own, Finally Punk. And everything I needed to know about succeeding in an office, I learned on the road.
Unlike an A-list mainstream band or performer, DIY bands must manage their own tours and merchandise sales to save on the cost of hiring a production team. So in addition to playing venues and traveling to new places, I booked hotels and kept track of all of our instruments and sound equipment.
It was extremely challenging at times, but it also taught me invaluable financial and management strategies that I now often revisit in my full-time corporate environment.
Here are the most important lessons I learned about saving money and working well in general:
Keep track of day-to-day expenses
Traveling for long periods usually means spending money differently. Keeping track of the hotels, food, gas, and miscellaneous outlays each day helped us figure out the best ways to plan ahead financially for the future and see where we could cut back.
Entering even the smallest expenses into a spreadsheet can provide necessary data for creating a budget that works.
Be upfront, but know when to hold your tongue
When you go into business with someone else, you are signing up to spend a lot of time with that person. In my case, my business partners were my bandmates. Everyone was equally invested in the success of our tour, so we all had to learn to be good listeners and good communicators, since any rough patch or misunderstanding could lead to an "off" performance.
Don't dwell on failures
It's tempting to obsess about the night you played to two people who had their arms crossed the entire time, but after you play 40 shows, you only focus on the times when the whole audience was singing along and crowd surfing.
You can't please everyone but you can have a positive attitude, and it helps.
Plan ahead but learn to be flexible
Expect the unexpected and make provision for it.
There were times we missed shows due to outside forces because our car broke down or we hit major traffic. We were always prepared to change the plan, switch up the route and get back on track for our next show.
Learning how to roll with the punches helped when I found myself in a corporate environment where there are often lots of people involved in making decisions.
Don't be afraid to promote yourself
Right after that last note was played, we made sure people in the crowd knew they could buy shirts, albums and posters on their way out. It may feel a little uncomfortable, but you have to be your own hype man. Who's going to do it if you're not?
Likewise, know the strengths of your team and exhaust them. We often made more selling merchandise than from sales at the door, especially when one of our members, Veronica Ortuño, was the seller. She had worked in sales before and was a wiz at presentation and charm.
Since we always sold way more merch when she was in charge, we often let her skip packing gear so she could man the table instead.
Be respectful to everyone
When you're a DIY band, it's important to utilize your network. The music community is full of bands that are trying to make it and we often cross paths along the way, whether it's on tour or at airports.
Because of the relationships we established early on, we had people to call when we needed places to crash or, one time, even a replacement amp.
You give that same respect to those calling on you for favors. No one in the community of DIY band tours is flush, so the relationships become invaluable ways of getting your situation to work without going broke or crazy.
Remember that there's more to life than making a lot of money
Though we were an unknown band when we went out on the road the first time, with careful accounting we were able to make our first six-week tour of the United States an invaluable experience.
Nobody came home rich but the time we spent on the road was responsible for numerous future jobs and a strong network of connection.
Years later, I was hired to make music videos and take professional photographs by people I had met while touring. Also fans of my bands were responsible for getting me jobs at Rolling Stone and even my current full-time corporate gig. Just goes to show that a lower-paid passion project can lead to success.